There are over 50 farmers markets in Rhode Island. That's one market for every 21,000 people, and more than twice as many markets as 6 years ago. Farm Fresh Rhode Island runs 11 of those markets; others are run by the RI DEM Division of Agriculture, community groups or farmers. Farm Fresh provides resources to many markets across the state with educational and outreach materials, including:
- We publish regional bookmarks before each summer season listing all markets in the state.
- We provide a list of markets to Edible Rhody for them to publish seasonally.
- Our Local Food Guide hosts a profile for each farmers market in the state, providing a user-friendly central online guide for consumers.
- We offer poster design services for markets.
- We offer technical assistance for those looking to add SNAP/EBT technology to their market.
Farm Fresh receives about 1 or 2 requests every week from a different person or group wanting to start a new market! Farm Fresh is not looking to start any new markets at this time. However, we can support your undertaking with the following information, as well as promotional opportunities.
This guide was made possible by a partnership between Farm Fresh RI and the USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program. We hope it helps!
Table of Contents
1. Initial Research
- Market Research
- Vendor Research
- Site Research
- Neighborhood Partnerships
- Agricultural Partnerships / Rural Stakeholders
2. Start Operating
3. Payment Options & Accepting Food Benefits
- Women Infants and Children (WIC)
- Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP)
- Credit / Debit / Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT)
- Fresh Bucks Token System in Rhode Island
4. Build Excitement Around Your Market
5. Tips & Support
There is much to think about before starting and managing your own market. A couple questions to get you thinking:
Vision: What is your vision for the market and your long-term goals?
Constituents: Who will come to your market? Where do they live? How will they get to the market? Are there EBT and WIC clients in your neighborhood? How can you reach out to these populations? How many vendors can your market support?
Location: Are there other markets nearby? Are they struggling or thriving? Will you be competing with them? How will your market fit in? How close is your market to public transportation? Is there enough parking?
Size: How big of a space you could fill? How many customers do you think your area could bring in?
Season and Schedule: You should choose a schedule that makes sense for you and your community. It’s good to think about the needs of your area, if there is already a summer market in your town, maybe you want to consider a winter market, or a market another time in the week that would be good for customers. When do people in your community work and purchase groceries?
Management Structure: What kind of management or oversight makes the most sense for your market? Will there be a board and paid staff? Who might be able to fill these roles? Transparent operations help build trust between vendors and the market -- these are vital relationships to build and maintain. Management might be determined or influenced by the market's source of funding.
Operating Costs: Will you have to pay rent? Will you have to pay staff to organize and set up the market? Will you offer a market manager stipend? How much will you charge vendors? Will you have any sponsorship or funding?
Startup Costs: Vendor fees can go along way in covering operational costs, but start-up money may need to come from other sources. Think about sponsorships or local government resources. Decide if the market should work towards economic autonomy or if it benefits from a close financial relationship with other groups or institutions.
Locating and connecting with farmers: You should look at nearby markets and research what types of farmers live in your area and whether they would be interested in going to market. As a market master, you need to ensure that this market will be worth a farmer's while, they don't want to waste their time or (typically perishable) products. It's important to create a balanced mix of vendors. For example, do not have three bakeries and only one vegetable farm.
If you are having difficulty locating vendors, it may be because there are already 44 farmers markets in Rhode Island. Please bear in mind that while the popularity of markets is growing, the number of farmers is not growing as quickly.
Products at Market: Think about what you want the market to emphasize in terms of products. Some markets host farmers and other vendors, including value-added products (i.e. baked goods, preserved/processed foods) and crafts alongside growers. Other markets choose only to include growers.
Will it be grower-only? Are vendors allowed to buy in and re-sell products from their neighbors? What are the guidelines for buying in?
Standards: What vendors will receive priority? How will you determine who is accepted? You may want to create some kind of policy as to what kind of value-added product you wanted. eg: Is the bakery going to be allowed at the market, even though none of the ingredients are local? Would you allow ice cream on site that didn't use Rhode Island milk?
Make sure that you are choosing a place that people can find easily, perhaps in a well-known area. Also a high traffic spot where the market is visible can allow people to discover the market even if they didn't know it existed. Is the market near to places where many people work or live? It's great to situate the market where people are already likely to be. With that in mind, be sure to have adequate parking both for vendors and for the public. Observe where levels of foot traffic are likely to be highest and establish car traffic flows accordingly. Pedestrians should feel relaxed and safe at the market. Another important consideration is accessibility for elderly or handicapped patrons and families with strollers. This is a must! The site of the market should be as level and smooth as possible, clear of tripping hazards, and large enough to host all the vendors with plenty of room for people to get around. On a related note, markets benefit from proximity to public transit, so keep this in mind when choosing a site.
Is it possible to have running water, restrooms, or electricity at the market? These are all elements that increase the comfort of both customers and vendors and encourage people to stay longer. Plans are also needed for emergency situations. Maintain a first aid kit and review your emergency responses.
What is your connection to this community? Hopefully you have some personal resources and networks to draw on in order to build support for the market. In addition, you could partner with community groups who may have an interest in the market -- community gardeners, local schools, musicians, restaurants, community organizers, etc. Contact local food banks, soup kitchens, and gleaners who may be interested in gathering the leftovers at the end of the market day. Let these groups know that you are committed to making the market a strong presence with positive energy in the neighborhood. Identify your common goals and see what you can work together on. On the other hand, consider who might be opposed to the market. Are your neighbors worried about noise and trash around the market site? Are you diverting resources and attention away from another community event? It's important to try to work with the people and groups around you. Further, keep in mind the goals and vision for the market as you first saw it.
Agricultural Partnerships / Rural Stakeholders
Similarly, you can also find partners in the folks at neighboring farms and local agricultural groups. These, too, are people in your community well worth working with. Get to know your fellow non-profit neighbors, especially land trusts, food policy advocates, and other organizations whose missions overlap with the goals of the market.
The Market Manager Booth
The Market Manager booth is a place to conduct the business of the market, but it also a place to promote events, provide information on agriculture and nutrition, and to serve as an information source. It could also be a place to sell items not already at the market, such as bread for a nearby bakery, seeds, eggs, etc. Be sure to follow your own market guidelines and don't compete against your own vendors! Selling things can keep you busy during market, and give you a clear idea of whether your market is failing, surviving or thriving.
If you are processing credit, debit or EBT cards, as discussed below, you will need to staff a management booth each market day. This can be a large, but worthwhile, commitment. Volunteers can help ease this responsibility if chosen with care.
Respecting local authorities in the initial planning and start-up stages of the market can go along way towards avoiding problems later. Talk to the local health department and inform them of what kinds of vendors will be at the market in order to find out what rules will apply to you.
There are specific licenses you need as a master yourself. Some cities in RI require a Vendors or Peddler’s License. Check with your town clerk to see what is required of the market.
Vendors are responsible for having the appropriate licenses based on what they sell, but local health department officials can help you understand and inform your vendors as well. You may choose to require that vendors go through the appropriate licensing and inspections before signing on to the market, or you might want to work with them to facilitate the process. In general, vendors with meat, dairy, prepared or processed foods all need Department of Health Licenses. All of these products must be prepared/made in a certified facility. Prepared foods can be in a “farm home kitchen” or any other commercially licensed facility. Dairy and meat must be processed in a USDA certified facility. Currently, eggs can be sold without this licensing. Again, working with RI Department of Health will insure that everything is correctly licensed, for the protection of you and your customers.
Contact Tom Nerney:
Rhode Island Department of Health
Office of Food Protection
3 Capitol Hill
Providence, RI 02908-5097
phone: (401) 222-2749
Consult an insurance specialist when you have located a site for your market. In general, the market will need general liability insurance coverage. This will provide coverage for the market as a whole, against such issues as slip and fall or similar. In general, these policies cover fresh fruits and vegetables as well.
Vendors with products other than fresh fruits and vegetables should have their own product liability insurance policy. This should be a requirement for participation in the market, along with any needed Department of Health licensing.
Women Infants and Children (WIC) Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP)
The WIC FMNP program is a great vehicle for market success in low-income neighborhoods. Through this program, low-income families receive $15 per year in vouchers to be used for fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets. Administration of this program is through the market manager - a market must be certified by the RI Department of Health WIC office to before farmers can accept these vouchers at a market.
WIC vouchers are issued to clients at health clinics, in a packet of information that includes lists of area markets that are licensed to accept WIC.
Farmers market vendors in RI are now able to accept "in-store" WIC checks for fresh fruits and vegetables as well. These vouchers will be in $6, $8, $10 and $15 increments. Please contact the WIC vendor office for complete information on both of these programs. They will be able to guide you on how to certify your market for WIC redemption and provide you with the most complete and up-to-date guidelines.
Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP)
The SFMNP operates somewhat like the WIC-FMNP, providing low-income seniors with $5 vouchers to be used at farmers markets. Unlike WIC vouchers, SFMNP programs can be utilized at some farmstands. The vouchers are distributed at senior centers and senior high-rise facilities. Farmers register individually with the Division of Agriculture to accept SFMNP. Many RI farmers are already certified, but it's a good practice to make sure that your farmers are registered.
It's important to help vendors understand what they can and cannot accept the vouchers as payment for. These vouchers can be used for fresh fruits, vegetables, honey and herbs. They cannot be used for:
- dried fruits or vegetables
- potted plants (including vegetable starts or herbs)
- nuts of any kind (even raw or unprocessed)
- maple syrup
And, again, it's important to make benefit recipients feel comfortable and welcome at the market. Hosting a Senior Day (or similar) event, maybe the last market day of each month, when seniors receive an additional discount, can encourage seniors to visit the market and also make it more worth their while.
SFMNP Coordinator: Peter Susi
phone: (401) 222-2781 Ext.4517
Rhode Island Dept of Environmental Management
235 Promenade Street
Providence, RI 02908-5767
Credit / Debit / Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT)
Many Americans use plastic for their grocery shopping, whether it be credit cards, debit cards, or electronic benefit transfer cards (cards for food stamps benefits). It's difficult for individual vendors to accept these cards at farmers markets. A wireless card reader costs between $700-$1,000 and monthly fees run about $30-$70 dollars per month, depending on the number of transactions.
Many markets overcome these barriers by purchasing a single machine for an entire market. The machine can then be used by customers to purchase scrip or tokens, to be used at the market vendors. The credit/debit/EBT funds are deposited in a market bank account, and the vendors redeem the tokens with the manager at the end of market. Scrip or tokens can be created in 2 denominations to distinguish between credit & debit purchases (which have no restrictions) and EBT purchases, which do have restrictions. A market must be certified by the US Department of Agriculture to accept EBT, and vendors and customers must follow EBT guidelines for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), formerly Food Stamps.
To learn more about how to get a free EBT/Debit/Credit machine through the USDA, see this additional guide on Farm Fresh’s website.
Fresh Bucks Token System in Rhode Island
Fresh Bucks are metal coins in denominations of $1 and $5, first created for the 2007 growing season. Fresh Bucks are an easy way to allow Credit Card users and Food Stamp / SNAP / EBT users to participate at your RI farmers' market.
Farmers' market managers or farmstands can contact Molly to acquire Fresh Bucks coins for use at their Rhode Island market. We encourage markets to keep Fresh Bucks in circulation through the season, and have materials to help explain Fresh Bucks to market-goers.
To help you model your use of Fresh Bucks, here's how it works at Farm Fresh RI markets. Fresh Bucks are provided as a service to encourage patronage of the local farmers' market. Farm Fresh RI runs a booth at the market that serves as a single "point of sale" with a wireless card-processing machine. Customers swipe a credit or debit card for $5 coins or an EBT card for $1 coins to spend at any food vendor. Food vendors can then redeem Fresh Bucks at the Farm Fresh booth and we write a check by the end of the market.
There are currently no redemption fees for farms or other participating vendors. Customers with credit cards are charged $1 for each transaction to cover the 2-3% processing fees we pay and our wireless service. While we may lose some money on larger credit card transactions, it is balanced by the smaller transactions, the convenience for customers and the increased revenue potential for local farms at the market. There are no fees for customers with Food Stamps/SNAP/EBT cards.
Since $1 Fresh Bucks coins function as a scrip system that allows EBT users to participate in the market, the same restrictions that apply to EBT also apply to Fresh Bucks. (That is actually less of a limitation than you may think. EBT covers a much wider range of foods than WIC.) $1 coins can pay for any food item that is not served hot or for immediate consumption. $1 coins can also pay for food-growing plant starts. A cup of coffee, flowers, soap or a sandwich at the market is unfortunately off limits. Baked goods should be wrapped in a bag for consumption after the market. The USDA provides a full list of SNAP eligible items.
Consistent with EBT rules, there is no change given for $1 coins. It's not very hard for customers to spend the full $1 and serves as a commitment to supporting local food producers.
We make sure all of our vendors know these details. We display EBT, Visa and Mastercard signage at our booth explaining Fresh Bucks to customers. We also provide point of sale signage for farmers and other vendors at the market saying "Fresh Bucks accepted". At the Farm Fresh booth we provide gift tags and a special baggie for customers purchasing Fresh Bucks as a gift. We also coordinate with the SNAP Outreach Project for web, print and on-the-street outreach.
Farm Fresh RI will redeem Fresh Bucks from farmers and farmers' market managers for US dollars. Farmers at markets managed by Farm Fresh RI can receive same-day reimbursement by check.
Promoting your Market
Naturally to have a successful market, you need to find the best way to inform your customer base about your market. Making posters and other paper advertisements are a good way to get the word out. Some ideas for promoting your market:
- Visit community centers, senior centers, libraries or schools to do presentations
- Radio/tv interviews (free) Send a press release to your local media outlets!
- Bus or bus stop ads
- Newspaper article about the market or advertisements
- Use your network of organizations that are like-minded to send out emails advertising the market or hold an opening event
- Work with local chefs and restaurants to promote the market. Consider inviting chefs to host cooking demonstrations
These listings are used to create promotional lists of markets on bookmarks. These bookmarks are distributed across the state. Listing on the site will guarantee the listing of your market on the bookmarks.
The early days of a market's life can be frustrating and uncomfortable. It takes time to build up support for the market. It can be hard even for the most committed would-be customers to remember to visit the market at the right time and day. Talk with vendors to ensure that they understand the time commitment the market requires and that they must stay for the duration of the market day and they must come to every market. Customers won't feel excited about coming to the market if the vendors don't feel excited about sticking around.
Farmers are at the market to make their living. A big part of your work as a market master is to support your vendors and to support the vitality of the market. This means thinking creatively about ways to bring people in and to make them want to stay. Remember that the market is both a business setting and a service to the community and you must balance both sides of this scale.
People really enjoy going to farmer's markets and it's great to make it an event for them to come, enjoy the sights and maybe even stay around for a while. Here are some ideas for events at the market:
Music: Invite music acts to play. Think about what type of music market customers would enjoy. Kid-friendly music is often a big hit at markets with lots of families. Think about where a musician could set-up, whether they need electricity, if there is a shady spot for the musician to play and shady, grassy spot in which families can sit and enjoy the music.
Workshops: The market is also a great space to host workshops or tables with information on relevant topics like composting or vermiculture. Or consider having visiting community organizations that would create interest and enjoy the public exposure.
Cooking Demonstration: Cooking demonstrations are a great way to draw customers to the market and offer nutrition education and cooking tips. The University of Rhode Island's SNAP Education Program does cooking demonstrations at farmers markets in low-income neighborhoods, cooking up easy, healthy, and affordable meals. More info.
A tomato tasting or corn-shucking contest are other ideas for market events. Many, many more can be found with a quick web search for “farmers market events.”
As a market master, it's ultimately up to you to foster and maintain a good work environment. This means foreseeing possible conflicts, amongst various market community members, and working to avoid or resolve them. As part of the market management, you need to establish and communicate the rules of the market. Make them clear to vendors and other relevant parties from the beginning to prevent problems later. You're the one enforcing these rules, as well. Find a method that is comfortable for you and fair to vendors.
It is very helpful to have cell phone or home phone numbers for all of your vendors in case you need to contact them on short notice or touch base about a market-related issue during the week.
The market should feel comfortable and pleasant both for vendors and for customers -- and also for you! Staying on top of your continuing responsibilities can help keep things running smoothly, and overall make the market better and your job easier. Tasks to keep in mind include:
- checking in with vendors that they attend market and sell only approved items,
- maintaining publicity for the market to ensure steady attendance,
- continuing outreach to new customers and, if necessary, new vendors,
- requesting regular feedback from vendors,
- collecting vendor fees and paying bills,
- making sure the markets' financial obligations are taken care of.
State Farmers Market Networks
Join the listserv for farmers market managers in Rhode Island. It is used to ask questions, share resources and coordinate annual gatherings.
Rhode Island also has a State Farmers Market Association. This nonprofit helps administer the state's Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program. Contact Peter Susi at the RI Division of Agriculture for more information:
phone: (401) 222-2781 Ext.4517
Rhode Island Dept of Environmental Management
235 Promenade Street
Providence, RI 02908-5767